SAN DIEGO — Encounter. Listen. Discern.
That’s what Pope Francis is asking every Catholic to do worldwide. He is asking them to meet each other to truly understand each other’s experiences in the Church, beginning a process to make it more inclusive and welcoming.
This process is at the heart of a monumental initiative called the Synod on Synodality, which the pope formally launched on Oct. 10 and began at the diocese a week later.
In basic terms, a “synod” is a meeting of Church leaders, and “synodality” refers to the way they make decisions.
Synodality “is a model that includes listening to a broad range of people and then discussing the issues together with the goal of hearing where the Holy Spirit is calling the Church.” That is how America, The Jesuit Review explains it.
This collaboration “enables the entire People of God to walk forward together to participate in the mission of the Church and the communion that Christ establishes between us,” according to the document the Vatican released to prepare dioceses for the synod.
The goal of the synod is to identify barriers keeping individuals and communities from fully participating in the life of the Church, and by the end, proposing ways to lift them.
The pope began the three-year synod with a Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica on Oct. 10. A week later, bishops worldwide launched the diocesan phase of the synod, which is to last through April. Locally, Bishop Robert McElroy initiated the “synodal journey” in the Diocese of San Diego with a Mass on Oct. 17 at the Pastoral Center attended by representatives from parishes, cultural Catholic commissions, pastors and religious women.
“We begin this synodal process when we’re asked to look into our hearts and souls as a local Church and to ask ourselves: To what degree do we incorporate into our lives the principles of synodality? How can we move forward in doing so?” the bishop told them. “Dioceses across the world are beginning the same inquiry into their ecclesial life, not with any sense of fear, but with a sense of openness and joy to what the Holy Spirit of God will reveal to us in the process.”
At the Mass, he outlined the path the diocese would follow in the synod. In the next four months, the local Church at all levels will undertake a “penetrating examination of conscience” to discern the degree to which the characteristics of synodality are present in the local Church, and where they are absent.
This information will be shared with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Vatican, which will use it to prepare for a universal Synod of Bishops in 2023.
More importantly, the bishop stressed, the findings of the examination of conscience would become the foundation for a process that will begin next February and stretch into 2023 “that will seek to transform our local Church by bringing the qualities of synodality much more powerfully into the life our parishes, schools, institutions and the diocese as a whole.”
The bishop said that he had appointed a commission of 17 women and men to coordinate the process, including lay parish leaders; leaders in life, peace and justice issues; and those serving marginalized communities. And he announced that there would be distinct processes for San Diego and Imperial counties to reflect the individuality of their communities.
“Like the people of Israel journeying into the desert,” he said, “we embark upon this synodal pathway unsure where it will lead us, relying upon the belief that our God will guide our way and deepen our sense of the community we are called to be.”